OFF AND RUNNING: New Chamber of Commerce president took the reins in front of a record turnout at this morning's breakfast.
OFF AND RUNNING: New Chamber of Commerce president took the reins in front of a record turnout at this morning's breakfast. Scott Kovacevic

'Fiercely independent' Chamber wants new fix for old hurdles

BACON, eggs and the challenges facing Gympie's business future were all on the menu at this mornings's record-breaking Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Faced with more than 130 of the region's business minds, new Chamber president Tony Goodman (pictured right) presented the groups' new edict as a "fiercely independent” body keen to fix Gympie's "dreadful” unemployment and underemployment rates.

He was joined by guest speakers and government representatives Scott Rowe and David Sparkes in a Q and A session for business leaders to voice their concerns about the region's business challenges.

Tony Goodman speaks at Gympie Chamber of Commerce meeting
Tony Goodman speaks at Gympie Chamber of Commerce meeting. Scott Kovacevic

And it was infrastructure, development and boundary issues which took the crown in the looming shadow of the closure of Gympie Private Hospital and manufacturer Carter Holt Harvey.

Wide Bay director of Regional Government Scott Rowe said there was no easy solution to this on the horizon.

"There is no great white knight that's going to come into Gympie and bring 1000 jobs,” he said.

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He said it was "much easier to grow, adapt and innovate what you've got”.

But that smaller growth had its own challenges.

Plansmart Development's Kimberley Toomey said there was "no capacity” in the region's road network, and that the "back-loading of developments” to address this was an ongoing issue.

Town planner Greg Martoo echoed this concern, pointing to council amalgamations as being partly responsible for how the region's network had been left to lag.

Street Survey.
Greg Martoo. Arthur Gorrie

Mr Sparkes, the State Government Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Innovation director, agreed this was an ever present issue.

"Someone has to pay,” he said.

"Is it businesses or ratepayers?”

In the end, though, "we need to find ways to make (development) go ahead”.

Anchor Realty's Tina Tillinger said planning continued to be a hurdle.

She said common feedback she received was that the planning rules change "every six months” and the "left hand doesn't know what the right is doing”.

"We hear it all the time,” she said.

For Jobmatch GM and Rattler vice chairman Garry Davison, the region's fluid government boundaries were an ongoing problem.

Youngest ever Councilor James Cochrane with former councilor Garry Davison. Photo Renee Albrecht/Gympie Times
Garry Davison. Renee Albrecht

He said it was a frequent occurrence for Gympie to be lumped in with Hervey Bay some of the time, and a completely different town at others.

Mr Sparkes had sympathy for the problem, as it was "often just as frustrating for the people in the government on the ground”.

Mr Sparkes said the amount of available industrial land was key to how likely the region was to attract businesses.

Carl Green from Green RV in Gympie has built his empire from a small car-yard to a multi-million dollar caravan and motorhome dynasty.
Carl Green. Renee Albrecht

Carl Green was not sure where that interest was, as he had not had "any... at all” on his 8ha industrial site in the past three years.

Mary St's future also made an appearance courtesy of Merv Welch, who asked what would help restore it in the wake of its life being "sucked out” by satellite shopping centres.

Mr Rowe said designated precincts were a possible option, as well as bringing larger business into the CBD.\

Tony Goodman speaks at Gympie Chamber of Commerce meeting
Tony Goodman. Scott Kovacevic

He pointed to Hervey Bay as an example where the council had brought its 300 work staff into one area to generate retail activity.

Gympie Regional Council's Economic and Tourism development manager Lynne Banford withdrew from speaking after the Chamber asked councillors and council staff other than her to not attend the breakfast.

As such, questions related to the council were unable to be answered.

Mr Goodman said the Chamber was going to present the concerns raised to the council in due course.